Write Effective Multiple Choice Questions

When I googled – write good multiple choice questions – I liked the advice from Vanderbilt.edu as written by Cynthia Brame who is the Assistant Director of the Vanderbuilt’s Center for Teaching.

Here are the two basic pieces of advice on this site about writing good multiple choices questions:

  • Construct an effective stem.
  • Construct effective alternatives.

Let’s see how to do this, as well as look at the bigger picture, such as the advantages to writing multiple choice test questions. Two advantages of this type of question are that they:

  • Assess various levels of learning outcomes.
  • Reliably and consistently measure a learning outcome.

Here are levels of learning outcomes multiple choice test items can assess:

  • Basic recall
  • Application
  • Analysis
  • Evaluation

To construct an effective stem, here are some guidelines:

  • Make the stem meaningful.
  • Present a problem so you focus on a learning outcome.
  • Keep irrelevant material out of the stem.
  • Use a negative in a stem only when a significant learning outcome requires it.
  • Emphasize the negative with italics, bold, and/or capital letters.

Here is an example of an effective stem:

Medication can help a heart attack patient from having another heart attack. Which of these medications can help someone who had a heart attack and is typically prescribed for such a patient?

A. Ativan
B. Orencia
C. Plavix
C. Toujeo

Effective alternatives follow an effective stem. Here are guidelines on creating effective alternatives:

  • Make all alternatives plausible.
  • State alternatives clearly and concisely.
  • Keep grammar consistent with the stem
  • Keep alternatives similar in length.
  • Present alternatives in a logical order such as alphabetical or numerical.

By Jeanette Evans